Editor's note: Katharina Ladikas is senior project director and Edward Appleton is director global marketing and sales at research firm Happy Thinking People.

More than 18 months have passed since qualitative researchers in Europe were forced by the first wave of the pandemic to go fully digital, to switch from face-to-face (F2F) to digital in core approaches – focus groups and in-depth interviews.

The responses have been overall very positive – “no way back” is how the editor-in-chief of German marketing research publication Planung & Analyse described it in a recent issue focusing on qualitative research. Digital qual definitely works, delivering extremely well on all sorts of insights briefs, such as getting depth insights digitally, assessing emotions and understanding people’s reactions.

In this article, we look forward – and look back. Our assumption: that future forecasting is best done by fully understanding the present and recent past, looking at overall dynamics and early trends.

Following this principle, we start by reviewing the past several months and ask: What’s changed since we first talked about digital qual and online empathy in our company’s May 2020 webinar? Secondly, we look at emerging trends – aspects of qualitative that are establishing themselves as part of the new best-practice normal. Finally, based on the first two sections we share our vision of how the future qualitative landscape might look and what that might mean for future insight-generation.

The switch in qualitative research accelerated by the pandemic brought many changes, most notably a shift to doing group discussions and in-depth interviews digitally.

As with any change in data collection mode, the transfer of good practice from face-to-face was a hugely valuable baseline but much adapting and adjusting was required, with some reinvention necessary. Digital has its own rules.

In the foll...